The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for July 23rd, 2018

astonished to

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Tell me what to do, everyone.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As is my usual habit, while the 7 line Subway was entering the Vernon Jackson Station, the camera was busily clicking away a couple three weeks ago. You’ve seen lots and lots of these shots here at your Newtown Pentacle, as every time I leave the neighborhood on whatever mission the day presents, I document my journeys photographically and that includes getting on the train. Like the Kiwi, I’m a funny and fuzzy little fruit with a lot of personality. On this particular afternoon, the gendarme who had so successfully pissed off his bosses that he was assigned to sit in the cop box at the end of a subway platform in Queens decided to punctuate his obvious boredom by confronting me about taking pictures in “the system.” How retro.

Given that I’m overly familiar with not just MTA’s policies towards photographic pursuits on their property (no commercial shoots, camera supports, lights, or flashes without a permit) but NYPD’s (standing orders from former Police Chief Kelly about not harassing photographers) as well, a brief conversation with the officer ensued. He accused me of using a flash, which he claimed “bothered” the conductors. I asked if he saw a camera flash, to which he replied he couldn’t see flashes inside his little cop box. Believe me, if I was using the flash I carry, you’d see it from up on the street. As is my habit, I offered to go with him to the nearby 108th precinct to have a conversation with his Desk Sergeant and Captain Forgione about NYPD’s rules on this subject. The officer declined the opportunity and asked me for ID and to see the pictures I had taken, to which I asked if I had committed a crime. Further, I offered that if he wanted to examine my camera card, he would need a subpoena.

He soon realized that he had stepped into a bear trap and returned to his cop box.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s been a while since I was last hassled by cops for brandishing the deadly weaponry known as a camera. I mean, it’s called a Canon, right? There are no laws in NYC, or in fact the United States, which preclude photographic pursuits in public spaces. There are a few exceptions, to be fair, but they mainly center around military installations. Everytime you see a sign like the one above, simply read it as an abrogation of your constitutional rights. The same legal pretense that allows NYPD and other security oriented organizations to hang surveillance and robotic red light cameras on lamp posts, private businesses and homeowners to brocade their walls with CCTV security cameras, also allows one such as myself to capture images of anything encountered whenever and wherever I want to.

A few years back, after reluctantly showing up for Jury Duty, the bailiffs of the Queens County court system went apoplectic when they saw my camera bag. They had no reaction whatsoever to the web connected video camera everybody else was carrying… you know, iPhones… but the DSLR represented some sort of existential threat to them.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are rules governing photography regarding private property, as a note. If I wander into a shopping mall, or cemetery, and start clicking away and am then confronted by representatives of the property owner who tell me to cease and desist I am obliged to do so. Again, it’s public space versus private space. If you can see it from the sidewalk, it’s kosher. 

Photography. Not a crime. Forcing a cop to work inside a box at the Vernon Jackson station might be a human rights violation, however. This fellow should be out there on the streets doing something useful.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

July 23, 2018 at 11:00 am

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